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In the world of computers, networking is the practice of linking two or more computing
devices together for the purpose of sharing data. Networks are built with a combination of
computer hardware and computer software. Some explanations of networking found in
books and tutorials are highly technical, designed for students and professionals, while
others are geared more to home and business uses of computer networks.
A. What Is Computer Networking?
B. What Is Wireless Networking?
C. World Wide Web (WWW)
D. Client-Server Networks
E. Peer-to-Peer Networks
F. Free Computer Networking Books for Students
A. What is (Wireless / Computer) Networking?
In the world of computers, networking is the practice of linking two or more computing
devices together for the purpose of sharing data. Networks are built with a mix of computer
hardware and computer software.
Area Networks
Networks can be categorized in several different ways. One approach defines the type of
network according to the geographic area it spans. Local area networks (LANs), for example,
typically reach across a single home, whereas wide area networks (WANs), reach across
cities, states, or even across the world. The Internet is the world's largest public WAN.
Network Design
Computer networks also differ in their design. The two types of high-level network design
are called client-server and peer-to-peer. Client-server networks feature centralized server
computers that store email, Web pages, files and or applications. On a peer-to-peer network,
conversely, all computers tend to support the same functions. Client-server networks are
much more common in business and peer-to-peer networks much more common in homes.
A network topology represents its layout or structure from the point of view of data flow. In
so-called bus networks, for example, all of the computers share and communicate across
one common conduit, whereas in a star network, all data flows through one centralized
device. Common types of network topologies include bus, star, ring and mesh.
Network Protocols
In networking, the communication language used by computer devices is called the protocol.
Yet another way to classify computer networks is by the set of protocols they support.
Networks often implement multiple protocols to support specific applications. Popular
protocols include TCP/IP, the most common protocol found on the Internet and in home
Wired vs Wireless Networking
Many of the same network protocols, like TCP/IP, work in both wired and wireless networks.
Networks with Ethernet cables predominated in businesses, schools, and homes for several
decades. Recently, however, wireless networking alternatives have emerged as the premier
technology for building new computer networks.
B. What is Wireless Computer Networking?
Wireless networks utilize radio waves and/or microwaves to maintain communication
channels between computers. Wireless networking is a more modern alternative to wired
networking that relies on copper and/or fiber optic cabling between network devices.
A wireless network offers advantages and disadvantages compared to a wired network.
Advantages of wireless include mobility and elimination of unsightly cables. Disadvantages
of wireless include the potential for radio interference due to weather, other wireless
devices, or obstructions like walls.
Wireless is rapidly gaining in popularity for both home and business networking. Wireless
technology continues to improve, and the cost of wireless products continues to decrease.
Popular wireless local area networking (WLAN) products conform to the 802.11 "Wi-Fi"
standards. The gear a person needs to build wireless networks includes network adapters
(NICs), access points (APs), and routers.

C. WWW - World Wide Web

The term WWW refers to the World Wide Web or simply the Web. The World Wide Web
consists of all the public Web sites connected to the Internet worldwide, including the client
devices (such as computers and cell phones) that access Web content. The WWW is just one
of many applications of the Internet and computer networks.
The World Web is based on these technologies:
• HTML - Hypertext Markup Language
• HTTP - Hypertext Transfer Protocol
• Web servers and Web browsers
Researcher Tim Berners-Lee led the development of the original World Wide Web in the late
1980s and early 1990s. He helped build prototypes of the above Web technologies and
coined the term WWW. Web sites and Web browsing exploded in popularity during the mid-
Also Known As: World Wide Web, The Web

D. Introduction to Client Server Networks

The term client-server refers to a popular model for computer networking that utilizes client
and server devices each designed for specific purposes. The client-server model can be used
on the Internet as well as local area networks (LANs). Examples of client-server systems on
the Internet include Web browsers and Web servers, FTP clients and servers, and DNS.
Client and Server Devices
Client/server networking grew in popularity many years ago as personal computers (PCs)
became the common alternative to older mainframe computers. Client devices are typically
PCs with network software applications installed that request and receive information over
the network. Mobile devices as well as desktop computers can both function as clients.
A server device typically stores files and databases including more complex applications like
Web sites. Server devices often feature higher-powered central processors, more memory,
and larger disk drives than clients.
Client-Server Applications
The client-server model distinguishes between applications as well as devices. Network
clients make requests to a server by sending messages, and servers respond to their clients
by acting on each request and returning results. One server generally supports numerous
clients, and multiple servers can be networked together in a pool to handle the increased
processing load as the number of clients grows.
A client computer and a server computer are usually two separate devices, each customized
for their designed purpose. For example, a Web client works best with a large screen
display, while a Web server does not need any display at all and can be located anywhere in
the world. However, in some cases a given device can function both as a client and a server
for the same application. Likewise, a device that is a server for one application can
simultaneously act as a client to other servers, for different applications.
[Some of the most popular applications on the Internet follow the client-server model
including email, FTP and Web services. Each of these clients features a user interface (either
graphic- or text-based) and a client application that allows the user to connect to servers. In
the case of email and FTP, users enter a computer name (or sometimes an IP address) into
the interface to set up connections to the server.
Local Client-Server Networks
Many home networks utilize client-server systems without even realizing it. Broadband
routers, for example, contain DHCP servers that provide IP addresses to the home
computers (DHCP clients). Other types of network servers found in home include print
servers and backup servers.
Client-Server vs Peer-to-Peer and Other Models
The client-server model was originally developed to allow more users to share access to
database applications. Compared to the mainframe approach, client-server offers improved
scalability because connections can be made as needed rather than being fixed. The client-
server model also supports modular applications that can make the job of creating software
easier. In so-called "two-tier" and "three-tier" types of client-server systems, software
applications are separated into modular pieces, and each piece is installed on clients or
servers specialized for that subsystem.
Client-server is just one approach to managing network applications The primary alternative,
peer-to-peer networking, models all devices as having equivalent capability rather than
specialized client or server roles. Compared to client-server, peer to peer networks offer
some advantages such as more flexibility in growing the system to handle large number of
clients. Client-server networks generally offer advantages in keeping data secure.

E. Introduction to Peer to Peer Networks

Peer to peer is an approach to computer networking where all computers share equivalent
responsibility for processing data. Peer-to-peer networking (also known simply as peer
networking) differs from client-server networking, where certain devices have responsibility
for providing or "serving" data and other devices consume or otherwise act as "clients" of
those servers.
Characteristics of a Peer Network
Peer to peer networking is common on small local area networks (LANs), particularly home
networks. Both wired and wireless home networks can be configured as peer to peer
Computers in a peer to peer network run the same networking protocols and software. Peer
networks are also often situated physically near to each other, typically in homes, small
businesses or schools. Some peer networks, however, utilize the Internet and are
geographically dispersed worldwide.
Home networks that utilize broadband routers are hybrid peer to peer and client-server
environments. The router provides centralized Internet connection sharing, but file, printer
and other resource sharing is managed directly between the local computers involved.
Peer to Peer and P2P Networks
Internet-based peer to peer networks emerged in the 1990s due to the development of P2P
file sharing networks like Napster. Technically, many P2P networks (including the original
Napster) are not pure peer networks but rather hybrid designs as they utilize central servers
for some functions such as search.
Peer to Peer and Ad Hoc Wi-Fi Networks
Wi-Fi wireless networks support so-called ad hoc connections between devices. Ad hoc Wi-Fi
networks are pure peer to peer compared to those utilizing wireless routers as an
intermediate device.
Benefits of a Peer to Peer Network
You can configure computers in peer to peer workgroups to allow sharing of files, printers
and other resources across all of the devices. Peer networks allow data to be shared easily
in both directions, whether for downloads to your computer or uploads from your computer.
On the Internet, peer to peer networks handle a very high volume of file sharing traffic by
distributing the load across many computers. Because they do not rely exclusively on
central servers, P2P networks both scale better and are more resilient than client-server
networks in case of failures or traffic bottlenecks.


Networks can be categorized in several different ways. One method defines the type of a
network according to the geographic area it spans. Alternatively, networks can also be
classified based on topology or on the types of protocols they support.
A. Introduction to Area Networks
B. Introduction to Network Topologies
C. Packet Switching
D. Network Protocols

A. Introduction to Network Types

LAN, WAN and Other Area Networks

ne way to categorize the different types of computer network designs is by their scope or
scale. For historical reasons, the networking industry refers to nearly every type of design as
some kind of area network. Common examples of area network types are:
• LAN - Local Area Network
• WLAN - Wireless Local Area Network
• WAN - Wide Area Network
• MAN - Metropolitan Area Network
• SAN - Storage Area Network, System Area Network, Server Area Network, or
sometimes Small Area Network
• CAN - Campus Area Network, Controller Area Network, or sometimes Cluster Area
• PAN - Personal Area Network
• DAN - Desk Area Network
LAN and WAN were the original categories of area networks, while the others have gradually
emerged over many years of technology evolution.
Note that these network types are a separate concept from network topologies such as bus,
ring and star.
See also - Introduction to Network Topologies
LAN - Local Area Network
A LAN connects network devices over a relatively short distance. A networked office
building, school, or home usually contains a single LAN, though sometimes one building will
contain a few small LANs (perhaps one per room), and occasionally a LAN will span a group
of nearby buildings. In TCP/IP networking, a LAN is often but not always implemented as a
single IP subnet.
In addition to operating in a limited space, LANs are also typically owned, controlled, and
managed by a single person or organization. They also tend to use certain connectivity
technologies, primarily Ethernet and Token Ring.
WAN - Wide Area Network
As the term implies, a WAN spans a large physical distance. The Internet is the largest WAN,
spanning the Earth.
A WAN is a geographically-dispersed collection of LANs. A network device called a router
connects LANs to a WAN. In IP networking, the router maintains both a LAN address and a
WAN address.
A WAN differs from a LAN in several important ways. Most WANs (like the Internet) are not
owned by any one organization but rather exist under collective or distributed ownership
and management. WANs tend to use technology like ATM, Frame Relay and X.25 for
connectivity over the longer distances.
LAN, WAN and Home Networking
Residences typically employ one LAN and connect to the Internet WAN via an Internet
Service Provider (ISP) using a broadband modem. The ISP provides a WAN IP address to the
modem, and all of the computers on the home network use LAN (so-called private) IP
addresses. All computers on the home LAN can communicate directly with each other but
must go through a central gateway, typically a broadband router, to reach the ISP.
Other Types of Area Networks
While LAN and WAN are by far the most popular network types mentioned, you may also
commonly see references to these others:
• Wireless Local Area Network - a LAN based on WiFi wireless network technology
• Metropolitan Area Network - a network spanning a physical area larger than a
LAN but smaller than a WAN, such as a city. A MAN is typically owned an operated by
a single entity such as a government body or large corporation.
• Campus Area Network - a network spanning multiple LANs but smaller than a MAN,
such as on a university or local business campus.
• Storage Area Network - connects servers to data storage devices through a
technology like Fibre Channel.
• System Area Network - links high-performance computers with high-speed
connections in a cluster configuration. Also known as Cluster Area Network.

B. Network Topologies

Bus, ring, star, and other types of network topology

In computer networking, topology refers to the layout of connected devices. This article
introduces the standard topologies of networking.
Topology in Network Design
Think of a topology as a network's virtual shape or structure. This shape does not
necessarily correspond to the actual physical layout of the devices on the network. For
example, the computers on a home LAN may be arranged in a circle in a family room, but it
would be highly unlikely to find a ring topology there.
Network topologies are categorized into the following basic types:
• bus
• ring
• star
• tree
• mesh
More complex networks can be built as hybrids of two or more of the above basic topologies.
Bus Topology
Bus networks (not to be confused with the system bus of a computer) use a common
backbone to connect all devices. A single cable, the backbone functions as a shared
communication medium that devices attach or tap into with an interface connector. A device
wanting to communicate with another device on the network sends a broadcast message
onto the wire that all other devices see, but only the intended recipient actually accepts and
processes the message.
Ethernet bus topologies are relatively easy to install and don't require much cabling
compared to the alternatives. 10Base-2 ("ThinNet") and 10Base-5 ("ThickNet") both were
popular Ethernet cabling options many years ago for bus topologies. However, bus networks
work best with a limited number of devices. If more than a few dozen computers are added
to a network bus, performance problems will likely result. In addition, if the backbone cable
fails, the entire network effectively becomes unusable.
Bus Network Topology
Ring Topology
In a ring network, every device has exactly two neighbors for communication purposes. All
messages travel through a ring in the same direction (either "clockwise" or
"counterclockwise"). A failure in any cable or device breaks the loop and can take down the
entire network.
To implement a ring network, one typically uses FDDI, SONET, or Token Ring technology.
Ring topologies are found in some office buildings or school campuses.

Ring Network Topology

Star Topology
Many home networks use the star topology. A star network features a central connection
point called a "hub" that may be a hub, switch or router. Devices typically connect to the
hub with Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) Ethernet.
Compared to the bus topology, a star network generally requires more cable, but a failure in
any star network cable will only take down one computer's network access and not the
entire LAN. (If the hub fails, however, the entire network also fails.)

Star Network Topology

Tree Topology
Tree topologies integrate multiple star topologies together onto a bus. In its simplest form,
only hub devices connect directly to the tree bus, and each hub functions as the "root" of a
tree of devices. This bus/star hybrid approach supports future expandability of the network
much better than a bus (limited in the number of devices due to the broadcast traffic it
generates) or a star (limited by the number of hub connection points) alone.

Tree Network Topology

Mesh Topology
Mesh topologies involve the concept of routes. Unlike each of the previous topologies,
messages sent on a mesh network can take any of several possible paths from source to
destination. (Recall that even in a ring, although two cable paths exist, messages can only
travel in one direction.) Some WANs, most notably the Internet, employ mesh routing.
A mesh network in which every device connects to every other is called a full mesh. As
shown in the illustration below, partial mesh networks also exist in which some devices
connect only indirectly to others.

Mesh Network Topology

Topologies remain an important part of network design theory. You can probably build a
home or small business computer network without understanding the difference between a
bus design and a star design, but becoming familiar with the standard topologies gives you
a better understanding of important networking concepts like hubs, broadcasts, and routes.
C. What Is Packet Switching on Computer Networks?
Packet switching is the approach used by some computer network protocols to deliver
data across a local or long distance connection. Examples of packet switching protocols are
Frame Relay, IP and X.25.
How Packet Switching Works
Packet switching entails packaging data in specially formatted units (called packets) that are
typically routed from source to destination using network switches and routers. Each packet
contains address information that identifies the sending computer and intended recipient.
Using these addresses, network switches and routers determine how best to transfer the
packet between hops on the path to its destination.
Pros and Cons of Packet Switching
Packet switching is the alternative to circuit switching protocols used historically for
telephone (voice) networks and sometimes with ISDN connections.
Compared to circuit switching, packet switching offers the following:
• More efficient use of overall network bandwidth due to flexibility in routing the
smaller packets over shared links. Packet switching networks are often cheaper to
build as less equipment is needed given this ability to share.

• Longer delays in receiving messages due to the time required to package and route
packets. For many applications, delays are not long enough to be significant, but for
high-performance applications like real-time video, additional data compression and
QoS technology is often required to achieve the required performance levels.

• Potential for network security risks due to the use of shared physical links. Protocols
and other related elements on packet switching networks must designed with the
appropriate security precautions.

D. Protocol (network)

A network protocol defines rules and conventions for communication between network
devices. Protocols for computer networking all generally use packet switching techniques to
send and receive messages in the form of packets.
Network protocols include mechanisms for devices to identify and make connections with
each other, as well as formatting rules that specify how data is packaged into messages
sent and received. Some protocols also support message acknowledgement and data
compression designed for reliable and/or high-performance network communication.
Hundreds of different computer network protocols have been developed each designed for
specific purposes and environments.
Internet Protocols
The Internet Protocol family contains a set of related (and among the most widely used
network protocols. Besides Internet Protocol (IP) itself, higher-level protocols like TCP, UDP,
HTTP, and FTP all integrate with IP to provide additional capabilities. Similarly, lower-level
Internet Protocols like ARP and ICMP also co-exist with IP. These higher level protocols
interact more closely with applications like Web browsers while lower-level protocols interact
with network adapters and other computer hardware.
Routing Protocols
Routing protocols are special-purpose protocols designed specifically for use by network
routers on the Internet. Common routing protocols include EIGRP, OSPF and BGP.
How Network Protocols Are Implemented
Modern operating systems like Microsoft Windows contain built-in services or daemons that
implement support for some network protocols. Applications like Web browsers contain
software libraries that support the high level protocols necessary for that application to
function. For some lower level TCP/IP and routing protocols, support is implemented in
directly hardware (silicon chipsets) for improved performance.